Monday, February 28, 2011


Today was one of those days that could get me going on a pretty good rant. Initially, I thought about critiquing our over-reliance on technology and people's (myself included) lack of mindfulness, which is one of the concepts I've been focusing on over the past few years through reading various books and articles.

[And in this spot you can now grin or roll our eyes about how someone would write a blog post railing against technology.]

However, what I think I'm really focused on -- at the basic level -- is what Thoreau states in Walden about how our possessions possess us.

One of the books I'm reading right now is an edited collection from New Society Publishers called Less is More: Embracing Simplicity for a Healthy Planet, a Caring Economy, and Lasting Happiness.

What many of the authors in the collection are promoting is living with lighter ecological footprints while embracing Thoreau's aphorism of "Simplify, simplify." Many of the authors are in or are influenced by the Slow Movement, and they're trying to persuade readers to live more simple, less hectic, and more meaningful lives by focusing more on our inner lives than outward possessions. In other words, they want folks to fully enjoy their lives instead of what Wordsworth refers to in "The World Is Too Much With Us" as "Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;/ Little we see in Nature that is ours;"

Some of the selections venture toward the whiny liberal variety of changing the world for the greater good of all and the planet. I like that message in general but not the whiny, unassertive tone of the some pieces. And I say all this as someone who would be considered a political "liberal" (on most issues) even though I see both American political parties as screwed up and usually spewing hokum backed by corporate interests. Or, put another way, I see some truth to how Lewis Black describes them--that the Democrats are a "party of no ideas" and Republicans are a "party of shitty ideas." And when they "work together," one guy says he has a bad idea, and the other collaborates to make the idea even "shittier."

But now I've gotten on a political tangent/rant. Back to what I'm supposed to be doing...

Okay, so one of my favorite essays in the book so far is co-authored by two Professors of Psychology, Tim Kasser (Knox College) and Kirk Warren Brown (Virginia Commonwealth). In their "A Scientific Approach to Voluntary Simplicity," they inform readers of their social-scientific study comparing two different sets of Americans (200 people per set), folks who lead lives of "voluntary simplicity"--people who "had voluntarily chosen to earn less than they could earn and had voluntarily chosen to spend less than they could spend" (37)--and mainstream Americans. Both groups took a survey that asked them about how happy they were and their environmental choices along with the Ecological Footprint Questionnaire. In addition, they "also measured two variables that past research found were associated with happiness and sustainability: mindfulness and values" (38).

But the results were a little surprising since the book is called Less Is More, a tome about simplicity after all. They found that happiness and sustainable lifestyle choices "were indeed compatible" (39). However, as the professors relate, "While there is some evidence that Voluntary Simplifiers were happier than mainstream Americans and were living more sustainable lives, ultimately our statistical analyses showed that identifying as a Voluntary Simplifier (versus a mainstream American) was not as important as being mindful and being oriented toward intrinsic values (relative to materialistic values)" (39).

So you're probably asking what the heck does being "mindful" mean, right? Earlier in the article, they talk about the "growing body of research on mindfulness shows that people vary considerably in the level attention they give to their thoughts, emotions and behaviors, and that to the extent they are more mindful, they report a higher sense of well-being" (38).

As Kasser and Brown conclude, the findings show that "living more happily and more lightly on the Earth is not as much about whether people think of themselves as Voluntary Simplifiers, but instead is more about their inner life -- that is, whether they are living in a conscious, mindful way and with a set of values organized around intrinsic fulfillment" (40).

So what this essay takes me to is another comedian, George Carlin, who satirized the American "getting and spending" long ago.

Be sure to take care of your "Stuff." And you're supposed to get more of it, especially that newer stuff.

And while you're at it, buy some Thneeds, "which everyone, EVERYONE, EVERYONE needs!"

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